Patient -- A Review by Lisa W.
I was particularly taken by the visual
imagery Anthony Minghella created, and that's what I'm going
to talk about here.
I thought much of the film was exquisite, in its own terms. I
also was delighted by the novel, and I see the changes and things
omitted, though I like the film just for what it is - and I think
it has its own poetry and
imagery - which brings me to the opening image of the movie.
A close up. Is it sand? Is it parchment? Is it living skin? Any
or all - and all of those come together in the person of Almasy,
burnt skin like parchment. Then the exquisite brush work, attentive,
like a lover. Focussing intently on the skin of his beloved,
just as Almasy later focuses on the fine details of Katherine's
body - her shoulder - her throat that he licks the sweat from.
What is it? Shapes - could be Arabic lettering. No, it's legs.
And a body. And then what? Arms - or claws? The brush makes strokes
that could turn this thing into a scorpion, a deadly creature
of the desert. But no, it's a person, faceless, face down, arms
reaching out. And then it's an echo of the shadow of a plane,
and it's Almasy flying over the desert, and his heart is breaking,
and the sand he flies
over stretches out endlessly, with shadows like that strange
figure, or like a woman lying back for her lover, or just acres
of formless sand, on and on . . .
And then later, we see the cave of swimmers, and there's another
link - so was this figure a swimmer? And swimming in a sea of
sand? Swimmers in a desert cave? And then Katherine picks up
the image, and we see her delicate brushwork, recreating these
cave images, and they are like the opening image, but not quite,
for that image was not swimming, it was lost, dying, fallen.
Black of skin and faceless, like the English patient. And everything
starts to tie together - that opening brushwork, it is Katherine,
it is Almasy, it is the cave, it is the desert, it is the plane,
it is their fate, it is the beauty and the terrible burning.
And maybe that fallen figure is Katherine, trapped in the cave
of swimmers . . .
And the music over the opening - haunting. A woman's plaintive
voice. And I assumed it was Arabic. And then later (my copy of
the screenplay is helping me here), in their love scene while
poor darling Geoffrey is waiting in his taxi, Almasy plays the
song for Katherine, and it's a Hungarian love song (he says),
and it's their story, only of course, he's making all this up,
but the echo of it is there in the song as it plays at the beginning
of the movie.
And then he is an "explorer", claiming parts of her
body, filmed in close up, so its curves could be the desert,
and she is face down as he traces her skin, and then, when she
turns over, and he explores that famous suprasternal notch, the
way his fingers fit into that indentation in her throat is to
me evocative of the earlier moment when he finds the clue to
the cave of swimmers, and his fingers slip perfectly into the
of a handprint in the rock face. And then in the cave near the
end, when he traces her skin, and paints saffron on her face,
it kind of completes the circuit of the image.
And flying high above the landscape they have been sent to explore,
they have freedom, and the sand curves lusciously beneath them,
and Almasy can only be free there with Katherine when she is
destroyed. And that same sand, filmed like a lover, is deadly
and claims and buries them when they are down in it, is hostile
and endless when he tries to cross it. I was very sorry they
dropped that image of the man falling from the sky, with the
woman in his arms, falling and burning. (Like Dedalus/Icarus
who flew too close to the sun, and was burned and fell to his
death for his pride?)
And then the tinkling of those little glass bottles - music like
the sound of water and life in the desert - soothing and restorative
for Almasy - is picked up and reflected in Hana's garden, with
all the bits of glass and mirror she has rigged to save her pathetic
little vegetable garden, to restore life where there was dryness.
Sorry if this reads like romantic slush, but I just felt like
trying to recreate the initial impression the movie made on me.
I thought Ralph was perfect for his role - all the casting was
first rate. He plays a man who keeps to himself, and then is
devastated by his feelings for Katherine, which I thought he
portrayed superbly. He no longer has control, he gives up everything
he has ever believed in, betrays everybody
. . .
Juliet Binoche really was the main female star, and it's a bit
of an insult that she has only a supporting actress nomination
for the oscars, which she won't win, of course, because Lauren
Bacall will win for Hollywood sentimental reasons. She is the
emotional heart of the film. What a wonderful, luminous actress!
KST was also excellently cast, and our darling boy did very well
with what he was given. I loved all of his precious few moments
on screen. And I loved him for doing this tiny part that is so
unheroic, and so unlike Darcy.
Lots of story threads made more sense for me when I saw them
played out on screen. Sure, it was simplified - I didn't mind,
bcause the book and the film stand on their own as works of art.
Yes, I'm sorry we lost some of the
complexity of the Kip/Hana story, but if we accept that a movie
will always simplify its source material, I like the strands
that Minghella was able to keep. And the relationship with Kip,
which ended not with death but with affirmation, worked on that
level. Hana is brought back to life, and has the strength and
the love to give death and peace to Almasy. And I didn't feel
that the love story dominated at the expense of everything else
- it was much less at the centre than I had expected.
Oh, there were even cuts to the printed screenplay - at least
one more scene between Hana and Kip, where they discuss why they
can't be together, because if she came to India, she would be
out of place, and if he came with her, his brown skin would be
'wrong'. Skin again. Skin as topography. Skin as boundary. Skin
to be explored . . . brings me back to those images yet again
that pervade this movie, of desert, landscape, tracing and touching
skin, flying beyond boundaries!
Call me a daft old softie, but I cried heaps near the end, even
though I knew exactly what was going to happen. Terrific movie.
I'll see it again.